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Decision Document

Conditional Statement of Position on the Proposed Vandenberg Artificial Reef Project Key' West, Florida

July 14,2004


This document provides information to support National Marine Sanctuary decision-making regarding a permit request to establish the USS Hoyt S. Vandenberg as an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), in State of Florida waters, off Key West. As part of the procedure to obtain a release of the vessel from the Maritime Administration (MARAD). through the State of Florida to the final recipient (City of Key West), MARAD is requiring the City of Key West to obtain approval through a permit from the FKNMS.


This project has been in the planning stages since 1996 by divers from Key West who formed the non-profit foundation Artificial Reefs of the Keys (ARK). Their mission was to establish a large shipwreck artificial reef in the vicinity of Key West to provide a world class alternate dive site and help draw diving pressure off the natural reefs. This would be the third such vessel requested by the dive communities in the upper, lower and Key West areas of the Florida Keys. The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) requires an artificial reef permit holder to have long term stability with good financial resources, therefore ARK. using the Resource Control Corp. (RCC) to handle much of the paperwork, is working with me City of Key West, with Key West as the (ACOE) acceptable permit holder. More recently Reefrnakers Inc., a for-profit corporation established specifically for artificial reef creation, is under contract with ARK to assist with fund raising, respond to permit paperwork requests, engineer, manage, prepare and place the Vandenberg in the designated location.

Various vessels and sites have been considered for this project. The 1944-built Vandenberg, a 520 ft. long ex-Navy troop transport vessel, converted to a missile range instrumentation ship in 1963 was tentatively selected for this project in 1998 following a review of environmental data indicating that the Vandenberg is a low hazmat content ship suitable for use as an artificial reef. In May 1999, the State of Florida Office of Fisheries Management requested that MARAD take the Vandenberg off of the scrapping list and place it in a category that would allow time for an evaluation of the vessel to be used as an artificial reef off Key West. In July 1999, MARAD set aside the Vandenberg to be used as an artificial reef.

MARAD and State of Florida Issues

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Removal of the Vandenberg from MARAD's inventory has until recently been a low priority. However, near the end of July 2004, its removal will be considered a high MARAD priority. If all necessary paperwork is not in place at that time for the vessel to be released as an artificial reef, it will likely be awarded to a contractor for dismantling. The MARAD ship disposal program states that it now has a credible and competitive bid to dismantle the Vandenberg.

The following requirements must be met before MARAD, and in turn, me State of Florida, Division of Marine Fisheries, Artificial Reef Program, will transfer the vessel for use as an artificial reef in the FKNMS.

1.     An approved artificial reef permit from FKNMS. (Note that MARAD has stated that a conceptual letter of approval will not be sufficient.)

2.    The draft work plan submitted on November 18, 2003 must be updated and expanded in

the following sections:

a.     The preparation plan needs to include the latest scope of services required by the Navy and MARAD as was listed in the scope of services for the ex-USS Texas Clipper. Additionally, if all PCB containing wiring is to be removed as proposed, which is over and above the BMP (Best management Practices), the cost of this procedure must be factored in. MARAD continues to express concern about sinking this vessel so that there is no visible sheen. The large quantity of fuel on the vessel therefore remains a cleaning concern for MARAD.

b.     Draft and provide the FWC a detailed sinking plan to include all aspects of the proposed scuttling.

c.     Draft and provide the FWC a Towing Plan to include all aspects of the tow from the James River fleet location, to the cleaning contractor's yard and from the cleanup yard to the sinking location.

d.     Secure new written cost estimates for cleaning and preparing the vessel based on the new scope of services that incorporate draft Best Management Practices (BMP's) such as will be utilized on the Texas Clipper and Oriskany. Review and select a preferred contractor and identify the proposed cleaning site for the vessel preparation. Due to the current scrapping workload of Bay Bridge Enterprises, an alternate preferred contractor should be selected and used.

e.     As part of the selection of a preferred contractor, FWC needs to be provided the facilities capabilities and experience of the proposed contractor to handle the cleaning and preparation of this large vessel. Confirmation and documentation that all contractor hazardous materials handling certifications are in place is required.

3.    Provide funding documentation for the entire project in excess of the matching grant

amount requested by FWC. This will require an identification of the sources of funding and verification of specific bank accounts in which these funds reside. MARAD requires a letter of confirmation, written on each donor's letterhead, confirming the commitment by the donor that his/her funds donated for this project will be available in their entirety to expend on the project. The total funds available must match the revised cleaning/towing/sinking costs estimates secured, above.

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4.     Provide the Identify of the project managers) for all phases of the project. List the

professional qualifications and technical expertise to oversee the portion(s) of the project that he/she may be responsible for. Supply the names and contact numbers for the day-to-day on-scene coordinators of the project phases in the absence of the project managers.

5.     Provide the overall project objectives and state how these objectives will be monitored and measured to determine the project's success.

6.     Discuss alternative deployment location(s) to the current proposed deployment location within a National Marine Sanctuary. Provide justification as to why these alternative locations may not allow for the project to meet its proposed objectives if they can not

Project Chronology

Disaster related shipwrecks have been occurring in the Florida Keys since the beginning of Spanish Colonial expeditions in the 16th century and continued during the 17 and 18th century. An extensive wrecking industry was established during the 19"' century as a result of the many groundings and sinkings that continued to occur. All of these unintentional "artificial reefs" have become part of the Florida Keys ecosystem. In more modem times, vessels were intentionally sunk to serve as artificial reefs, such as the Navy cruiser Wilkes Barre off Key West, sunk in 1972 in approximately 300 ft. of water. Concrete bridge material and other ships deployed as artificial reefs in the 1980s were all part of the ecosystem when the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary was established.

One deep water fishing oriented shipwreck artificial reef and two dive oriented shipwreck artificial reefs were established after FKNMS designation as a result of continued public interest and public monetary support for artificial reefs. The Vandenberg would be the fourth permitted artificial reef after FKNMS designation and the first one off Key West since FKNMS designation. There continues to be strong public and community support for this project which will also provide an opportunity to continue with FKNMS Strategy F.7 Artificial Reefs -"Access impacts from artificial reef development".

Spring, 1999 - After consulting with several organizations, including the Key West Bar Pilots Association and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, a general elongated area south of Key West in State waters outside the FKNMS Area To Be Avoided (ATBA) and just off the NE comer of a designated dredged material dump site in the 120 ft. to 150 ft. depth range was tentatively selected. During the spring and summer months over 40 logged survey dives were made by Key West divers supervised by ARK and included divers from the Florida Keys Community College, Diving Technology section directed by Bob Smith. The mission of their dives was to locate a large flat bottom area free of corals and other significant hard bottom communities. The survey information from their dives was reported to the staff of the FKNMS and indicated that the bottom consisted of a flat sand and rubble environment.

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July, 1999 - A monitoring program was planned and the Florida Keys Community College Diving Business and Technology branch committed to devising and operating ongoing monitoring programs.

July, 1999 - The Sanctuary Advisory Council through the Artificial Reef Working Group advised that this project serves as one of the three shipwreck artificial reef projects to serve as a template for the Regulatory Action Plan F.7 Artificial Reefs - "Regulations will be developed for the construction of artificial reefs in the Sanctuary."

August, 1999 and later- A smaller square area, within the elongated area where a concentrated number of dives had been made, was selected for survey by FKNMS Resource Managers. This was the farthest distance from any known reef and close to the NE comer of a designated Navy dump site. Several dives in this area indeed confirmed that the area consisted of a flat sand and rubble bottom at the required depth which would be very suitable for a shipwreck artificial reef placement. Coordinates for this tightly surveyed area were used by ARK for the submission of a required joint ACOE / Florida DEP permit request.

November, 1999 - A stability analysis of the Vandenberg was conducted by Paul Linn Associates and it was concluded that the Vandenberg will be stable in any orientation at the projected 140 ft. depth in the designated location during a statistical 100-year storm event with a wave height of 33 ft. for both head-on and broadside conditions.

Fall, 1999 - SCR surveys of the selected site were conducted by the Florida Keys Community College, using probes and hand held metal detectors. The site was determined to be completely free of any man-made objects. The bottom consisted of loose fine sand with inorganic silt soils mixed with sparse gravel and pulverized coral rubble. The bottom was such that there was little chance that there was anything embedded or buried in it. An exhaustive visual search of peripheral areas revealed no signs of submerged cultural resources.

August, 2000 - The City of Key West received a necessary Florida DEP Submerged Lands and Environmental Resource Program permit/authorization # 44-0170771-001-ES.

April, 2001 - The City of Key West received a necessary Army Corps of Engineers permit #200002402 (IP-PK).

Continuing Strong Community Support

The local community has voice strong support for this project. Among the factors cited by members of the local community (in letters of support and at the public meeting) were the following:

1. The local community feels the project will benefit Key West dive shops as well as the economy of Key West, as the Spiegel Grove artificial reef off Key Largo appears to have.

2. The local community feels because divers enjoy shipwreck diving as much or more than diving on natural reefs, the project will probably serve to reduce commercial dive visitation on the natural reefs in the vicinity of Key West.

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3. Private boaters will also enjoy the enhanced recreational use of this site that presently is

an unattractive bare bottom substrate.

The FKNMS has also received letters of support for the project from outside of the local community including from other counties and cities from around the state. There is also political support from local. State, and Federal elected officials (see list below).

The following is a list of letters of recommendation that the FKNMS has received as part of the submitted permit application from the applicant:

• Florida Keys Community College: Bob Smith, Diving Business and Technology; and Bill Trantham, Marine Biology and Technology

• Monroe County Tourist Development Council, Dive Umbrella: Cecilia Roycroft

• Key West Chamber of Commerce : Virginia Panico

• Key West Hotel and Motel Association, 2000: Jack Smith

• Key West Hotel and Motel Association, 1999: Matt Babich

• Key West Innkeepers Association: John Marburg

• Key West Business Guild: Kent Henry

• Key West Attractions Association: Michael Morowski

• Reef Relief: Dee Von Quirolo

• Save A Turtle: Mike Hall, President

• Florida Keys Wild Dolphin Alliance: Capt. Sheri Sullenger

• Key West Harbor Pilots: Capt. Robert Johnson, Senior Pilot

• Propeller Club of the United States, Port of Key West: Capt. Finbar Gittleman

• Motivation Inc.: Kim Fisher

• City of Jacksonville, Florida Dept. of Parks and Recreation

• City of Mexico Beach, Florida

• Collier County, Florida

• Manatee County, Florida

• Key West Citizen Daily Opinion Poll

• Senator Bob Graham

• Congressman Peter Deutsch

• State Representative Ken Sorensen

Spiegel Grove Experience

In May, 2002, the 510 ft. Spiegel Grove shipwreck artificial reef was established off Key Largo at the designated permitted site in 130 ft. of water. The vessel sank prematurely likely due to the failure of weakened engine room bulkheads during the filling process, which allowed the ship to flood at a much more rapid rate than planned. An oil sheen after the ship sank was the result of a few quart bottles of portable generator oil left behind when the vessel was abandoned. The other source of a slight oil leak was the hydraulic oil from the anchor winches in the forward anchor locker. Both sources were identified shortly after the sinking and the oil was removed and cleaned up by voluntary divers thereby eliminating any further oil seepage problems.

Initially, the vessel sank upside down with an air pocket in the forward part of the vessel, keeping the bow floating and exposed out of the water. The project organizers arranged with a

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salvage company to finish sinking the vessel with no expense incurred by NOAA or any governmental entity. This operation was successful with the vessel stabilized on the starboard side and the bow facing seaward, making the port side easily accessible to divers at depths of 50 to 60 ft. Although the original intent was to sink the vessel in an upright position, many dive operators now feel that this orientation is safer and provides a better dive. In addition, the giant props, which are an attractive feature of this site, are exposed and more accessible at a shallower depth.

Two concerns for Sanctuary managers are whether artificial reefs act as a tool to help take diving pressure off natural reefs, and if the nearby surrounding reefs are biologically impacted by the deployment of a large shipwreck artificial reef. The Spiegel Grove has now provided two years of information to help answer these questions. Before the sinking, baseline information was acquired. To document the biological changes, researchers collected data regarding fish species and abundance on nearby reefs, and for socio-economic changes, vessel traffic and usage was recorded from the surrounding area.

Dr. Bob Leeworthy, NOAA economist, collected socio-economic monitoring data from Key Largo charter dive operators during the year before the Spiegel Grove was deployed and during the year after. The information acquired shows an overall increase in diver visitation to Key Largo during the year after the deployment of the Spiegel Grove with a decrease in dive charter visitation to the natural reefs in the vicinity of the Spiegel Grove, compared to pre-deployment conditions. Lad Akins' Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) fish census surveys show little change on the natural reefs in the vicinity of the Spiegel Grove while the number of fish species and abundance has continued to increase on the Spiegel Grove. This is an indication that the fish initially populating the Spiegel Grove are coming from widespread multiple locations, rather than from a concentrated site.

Implementation and Monitoring Plans

The applicant has provided only preliminary information about the nature of a proposed monitoring plan. The following information was supplied by the applicant, although it is uncertain what, if any, involvement Dr. Leeworthy will have in the second study regarding the socio-economic monitoring of the Vandenberg.

• For biological and ecological monitoring of the Vandenberg, preliminary arrangements have been made with REEF to carry out pre-deployment and post deployment monitoring of the site and adjacent natural and artificial reefs. Monitoring will document the fish presence/absence and relative abundance at eight sites during seven monitoring schemes in year one and then annually thereafter. Inception of this study is contingent on confirmation of plans to sink the vessel.

• Dr. Bob Leeworthy will direct the socio-economic monitoring of the Vandenberg. Dive charter operations will provide information from their dive logs which should include information on specific sites dived, time of arrival and departure, number of divers, use of moorings buoys, and weather. Surface surveying will be used to estimate the ratio of private household and rental boat usage to charter boat usage. This ratio would be used to get total usage by extrapolating information from charter boat logs.

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• Robert W. (Bob) Smith, Director of Diving Business and Technology, and his team from Florida Keys Community College will be monitoring vessel movement after storm events by conducting observation dives before and after significant storms. They will also monitor for slight vessel movement by placing self-recording motion detectors on the vessel, e.g., a collection of accelerometers, inclinometers and pressure sensors. The data will be reviewed on a regular basis and reports of findings will be prepared and submitted on an annual basis.

Current Status

For establishing artificial reefs in the Florida Keys, the National Marine Sanctuary Program prefers an FKNMS permit instead of authorizing the existing ACOE permit. In May, 2003, ARK through RCC (now Reefmakers Inc.) submitted a permit application on behalf of the City of Key West to the FKNMS which included the following initial information:

• Towing and Sinking Plan

• Permits

• Professional Qualifications

• Monitoring Plan

• Environmental Impact

• Insurance and Bonding

In January 2004, Reefinakers, at the request of the NMSP and FKNMS, submitted the following additional information, on behalf of the City of Key West:

• Project Goals, Timeline and Proponent

• City of Key West relation to project

• Artificial Reefs of the Keys, Inc. (ARK) relation to project

• Reefinakers Inc., relation to the project

• Resource Control Corporation relation to the project

• Life of the Project

• Continuing Liability

• Budget/Funding

• Monitoring

• Towing and Sinking Plan

• Professional Qualifications

• Joint Permit Application language change

• NEPA / draft EA

On March 4, 2004, after Federal Register and newspaper notification, a public meeting was conducted in Key West to present information and answer questions about the project and to get comments and input from the public. Approximately 25 total comments were received including write-in comments after the public hearing. One person submitted written comments opposing the project. All of the other comments received were in favor of establishing the Vandenberg as an artificial reef off Key West.

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In June and July, 2004, Reefmakers Inc. has worked diligently to fulfill all the requirements, listed in this document under MARAD and State of Florida Issues, which are necessary to secure

permission to sink the Vandenberg as an artificial reef

Plans for die Vandenberg include hiring a team of professionals with experience sinking vessels in Canadian waters. They have proposed to build a scale model of the ship and, in a test tank, conduct various scenarios to determine the best way to sink the vessel and identify any problems that might occur. The efforts of the volunteer team sinking the Spiegel Grove were very professional and they worked diligently to deploy the vessel in a safe and manageable manner;

however, circumstances beyond their control, unknown but unavoidable probably because of inherent weakness in the structure of the ship, caused the premature sinking. This is a situation which would not be expected to be repeated with another ship. The stability analysis of the Vandenberg indicates that the vessel will be stable in any attitude, without having to orient the bow to seaward, in the event of a one hundred year storm. This indicates that the Vandenberg lias a lower center of gravity than the Spiegel Grove and it is therefore more likely to be deployed without the problems associated with the Spiegel Grove sinking process. The planned site is also at a deeper depth of 140 ft. compared to the 130 ft. depth of the Spiegel Grove which will give it an added measure of stability.

Decision Recommendations

For the reasons set forth in this document, the National Marine Sanctuary Program supports this

project and would likely issue a permit for it. However, no such permit will be issued until all of the following conditions are met:

1. The applicant satisfies all outstanding requirements of MARAD and the State of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission related to vessel transfer;

2. The applicant provides missing information related to the FKNMS permit including sufficient financial assurance for the life of the project, adequate monitoring, towing, and sinking plans; and

3. The applicant submits all appropriate National Environmental Policy Act documentation.

By permitting this vessel, the FKNMS will complete the deployment of the third of three vessels recommended by the Artificial Reef Committee of the Sanctuary Advisory Council to help develop final regulations for F.7 Artificial Reefs Regulatory Action Plan. Concerns from the Spiegel Grove deployment will be addressed in this permit to avoid similar problems from occurring with the Vandenberg sinking.

Approval of this artificial reef project will also enhance the existing site for increased public enjoyment and economic benefit. With monitoring requirements in place, the FKNMS will obtain additional knowledge and understanding of how artificial reefs can successfully be a compatible human use of the environment while adhering to the primary objective of sanctuary

resource protection.

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